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Around the Home: Food and power outages
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After the recent snow that accumulated in middle and north Georgia I was so thankful that we did not have downed power lines and loss of electricity.

Food safety becomes even more important in emergency situations. How would you feed your family if the roads were dangerous and you didn't have electricity at home?

First, use perishable food and foods from the refrigerator. Then use foods from the freezer. To minimize the number of times you open the freezer door, post a list of freezer contents on it. In a well-filled, well-insulated freezer, foods will usually still have ice crystals in their centers.

Consume the foods only it they have ice crystals remaining or if the temperature of the freezer has remained at 40 degrees F or below. Covering the freezer with blankets will help to hold in cold. Be sure to pin blankets back so that the air vent is not covered. Finally, begin to use non-perishable foods and staples.

Cooking without power

For emergency cooking you can use a fire, a charcoal grill or camp stove outdoors only. You can also heat food that tastes better warm with candle warmers, chafing dishes and fondue pots.

Do not plan on using these warming items for cooking raw foods that have to be thoroughly cooked to be safe, for example, raw meats, poultry, seafood and eggs .

Canned foods

One of the best choices for emergency food supplies is commercially canned foods. Canned foods are also cooked and can be eaten right of the can, or just warmed if they taste better that way.

Foods that are canned are considered shelf stable and do not require refrigeration until opened. Shelf life, or how long they will last, is determined by methods that evaluate the quality of the food.

Canned foods can last two years or longer (products are in the marketplace now that are dated 11 to indicate they don't expire until the year 2011.) For best quality, store canned foods in cool, dry locations and use within one year.

When including canned foods in your emergency food supply, inspect your supply periodically to make sure there are no rusty, leaking, bulging or badly dented containers and no broken seals. Dents that involve seams or can ends can break seals.

Large or severe dents in the sides of a can may also break a seal around the can end or seam, even though it might not be obvious. Replace items found in any of these conditions. Do not eat out of cans found in any of these conditions during the emergency.

If the disaster has produced conditions where canned foods are in flood waters, inspect them carefully for signs of damage. Throw out any home canned foods or foods in glass jars, whether opened or not, that have been soiled by flood waters.

If food has been commercially canned and the metal can is still intact and not rusty or bulging, it can be used but will need to be cleaned and sanitized before opening.

Make sure that you always have a manual can opener available in case you cannot use your electric can opener due to power outages.

Question: An icestorm knocked down the power lines, can I put the food from the refrigerator and freezer out in the cold?

Answer: No, frozen food can thaw if it is exposed to the sun's rays even when the temperature is very cold. Refrigerated food may become too warm and foodborne bacteria could grow. The outside temperature could vary hour by hour and the temperature outside will not protect refrigerated and frozen food.

Additionally, perishable items could be exposed to unsanitary conditions or to animals. Animals may harbor bacteria or disease; never consume food that has come in contact with an animal.

Rather than putting the food outside, consider taking advantage of the cold temperatures by making ice. Fill buckets, empty milk cartons or cans with water and leave them outside to freeze. Then put the homemade ice in your refrigerator, freezer, or coolers.


Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Her Around the Home column appears each Wednesday. Contact: 770-535-8290.

 

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